"We Celebrate This Event with the Rest of Humanity."
August 9, 2012 • 11:57AM

While millions watched, listened, and electronically communicated around the world while the Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory was landing on Mars, people from many nations involved in the mission shared the pride of a global accomplishment with their NASA colleagues.

South Africa's space agency invited the public to come to its Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory to join its "early bird team" to watch the live-landing broadcast by NASA the morning of August 6th. South Africa's special pride in the mission stemmed from the role it played in the launch of the Mars Science Lab. When the spacecraft separated from the Atlas V rocket that launched it in November, to continue its travels to Mars, SANSA tracked that critical event, accessible only in the Southern Hemisphere. Its Hartebeesthoek radio telescope facility was originally built by NASA in 1961, to help track its deep space craft.

Similarly, the Deep Space Network radio dish at Canberra, Australia, which relayed Neil Armstrong's first words in 1969 from the surface of the Moon, collected the beep signals as Curiosity was descending through the Martian atmosphere, and relayed them to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in California.

On the rover, itself, is a suite of 10 scientific instruments, with contributions from around the world. Using data from the Rover Environmental Monitoring System (REMS), which was built in Spain, a team of 40 Spanish researchers — scientists and engineers — will post daily weather reports from Curiosity. Since the rover will spend at least one Martian year exploring, the REMS will record weather as well as seasonal changes. Participation in the mission has created a point of optimism.

Canada, a nation with a climate not unlike that of Mars, built the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer, which will identify chemical elements in rocks and soils. A "pinch" of radioactivity "queries" a target, by emitting radiation, and the X-Ray detector "reads" the answer. The instrument rides on the multi-tool turret at the end of Curiosity's 7-foot-long arm. The instrument was built by Canada's MDA company, which designed and built the magnificent robotic arms that flew on the Space Shuttle and serviced the space station.

Russia, which has not had success as of yet in landing its own spacecraft on Mars, has made an important contribution to the Curiosity rover. The Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons instrument shoots neutrons in to the Martian ground, and measures how they are scattered. To a depth of about 20 inches, scientists will be able to detect hydrogen, a key marker for hydrated minerals and underground water on Mars.

France has provided a laser for the Chemistry and Camera suite mounted atop Curiosity's mast. The laser can hit a rock or soil target up to 23 feet away, to vaporize a small spot of material, creating a plasma. A telescope observes the glowing plasma gas, and analyzes the spectrum of light created, to identify the chemical elements in the target.

A key instrument on Curiosity, the Radiation Assessment Detector, measured the penetration of galactic and solar radiation in the spacecraft on Curiosity's trip to Mars, and will provide a detailed assessment of the radiation environment astronauts will face on the surface, in the future. To check and calibrate the instruments, particle accelerator research facilities were used in Europe, Japan, and South Africa.

Italy's contribution is unique to its history: Leonardo da Vinci's Codex on Bird Flight, a document from about 1505, was reproduced on a microscopic scale and fastened to the chip on Curiosity. Leonardo's self-portrait is also on the rover, along with some essays, drawings, and other submissions from finalists and semi-finalists who participated in the Send Your Name to Mars rover naming contest opportunity.

And this is not to mention the scientists and engineers of various nationalities — including Argentine and Peruvian — who were working at the Jet Propulsion Lab on the project, and whose work has stimulated tremendous national pride within their home countries.

For the scientists and engineers around the world who have created Curiosity, the landing was a great moment of triumph, which was celebrated "with the rest of humanity."